Survival Skills: Handling Your Water Supply In Winter

Ever had a thermos, Nalgene, or your favorite canteen swell to its breaking point in winter's cold temps? Whatever activity you were doing outdoors in sub-freezing temperatures, it's likely that you didn't need that extra hassle.

Staying warm can be a full time job, and keeping an ample supply of water in liquid form can also be a constant chore. So how do you keep your bottles from busting and your water filters from breaking? And what's the best way to consume snow?

No More Exploded Bottles
I have a few favorite tricks for keeping my water fluid during cold-weather trips and training. I start with hot water in my bottles and canteens, and then insulate the containers somehow. A wool sock can fit perfectly over a Nalgene bottle. You can also bury the bottle in the center of a backpack to buffer it from the cold. The biggest downside to that practice is that you are less likely to drink as often as you need to, but at least it will stay unfrozen for a while longer.

No More Costly Water Filter Replacements
Having a high-end water filter freeze and crack can require a costly replacement, and leave you in a jam out in the middle of nowhere. Keep your pumps and filters from becoming frozen or clogged with ice by stashing them next to your warm bottle of water in your pack during the day, and keep them in your sleeping bag with you at night. You can keep your water in your bag, too. Yes, it's annoying to have stuff rolling around in your bedding, but the water bottle should be full of hot water, and this bed warming technique can add enormous comfort to cold backcountry nights.

No More Eating Snow
Snow is mostly frozen air. Depending on the snowflake size and shape, the snow could be 9 or 10 parts frozen air, to 1 part water. Eating snow to hydrate yourself will cause hypothermia before you become fully hydrated, so melt it and drink it instead. If the snow has been lying around for days or weeks, it may have been contaminated by people or animals, so boil it for 10 minutes before drinking.